Monthly Archives: October 2010

St. Kate’s students competing in social enterprise competition

CTI grinder being used in Mali - photo courtesy CTI

by John Hamerlinck

St. Catherine University students are engaging in a social enterprise competition in that is aimed at improving quality of life for people in Uganda.

The Acara Institute, together with 3M, has developed a program, called Sales for Social Impact. Working with the St. Paul, Minnesota non-profit Compatible Technology International (CTI), St. Kate’s students will develop a plan to sell CTI’s African-manufactured food grinders in Uganda. For more details see this story.

A team of students from the University of Minnesota and the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee recently won the Acara Challenge 2010, which focused on creating businesses that address clean water and clean energy for underserved populations in India. You can read about that challenge here.

A Challenging Question

by Julie Plaut

How can we document meaningful short-term outcomes, when much of what we’re aiming for takes a long time to achieve?

We’ve probably all heard the grudging joke about needing to wait to read our students’ obituaries – hopefully decades from now – to know if we really graduated actively engaged, informed and responsible citizens. Major change in individuals and in communities often takes years, yet it’s critically important to know in the shorter term to what extent we’re achieving our goals, or at least contributing to long-term movement toward them.

A common framework categorizes knowledge and skills as outcomes that can be measured in the short term; actions or behaviors as intermediate outcomes; and values, conditions, and status as long-term outcomes. Thus a campus-community partnership focused on increasing college access might track: middle school students’ understanding of key steps to attend college, and college administrators’ knowledge of effective strategies for increasing access; the same students’ enrollment in a rigorous set of high school classes, and changes in college admissions and financial aid policies or practices; smaller gaps in high school graduation and college enrollment rates by race, income, and parents’ level of education, and a shared commitment among educators to support all students’ educational success.

For institutions and individuals committed to developing engaged citizens, determining exactly what we seek to accomplish and measure may be the fundamental challenge. We can certainly draw on indicators from the national Civic Health Index, the VALUE rubrics, and other resources, including those noted in MNCC’s 2009 Civic Engagement Forums report. Yet there is neither extensive research on the results of different experiences and contexts, nor often a strong link between existing knowledge and practice. In analyzing alumni survey data, for instance, do we take into account political scientist Laura Stoker’s work on life-cycle patterns, so we don’t judge our success by looking at a typically low point in adults’ civic engagement? Some useful reflections appear in How Young People Develop Long-Lasting Habits of Civic Engagement, the result of a conversation to inform the Spencer Foundation’s Civic Learning and Civic Action initiative, which is a source of research grants that will surely inform future practice.

Thoughtful consideration of the desired outcomes for communities, students, and institutions, drawing on multiple disciplines and types of knowledge, can be a civic act in itself—developing participants’ capacity for dialogue, strategic judgment, commitment to engage over time, and sense of accountability for results as well as intentions or actions.

Reprinted from “Outcomes,”our assessment brief which is published twice a year and available at

Assessing the Outcomes of Civic Engagement: Why Bother?

by the MNCC Assessment Leadership Team

Assessment is like flossing. We all know it’s a good thing to do, but we don’t necessarily act on that knowledge unless there’s an external push—a looming dentist visit or a funder’s requirement. Civic engagement practitioners, like most people in higher education, assess the results of their work primarily in response to others’ demands. Our daily lives are full. Yet assessment helps us track progress towards our goals and understand what factors contribute to success. It allows us to tell powerful stories and identify where we might best invest our time and money. It keeps us accountable to our own values as well as our partners. It thus helps us do our jobs better, advancing our institutions’ civic missions and broader movements for positive change.

So how can we fully commit to actions that are healthy for us in the long run? One step is simply recognizing assessment’s benefits as a matter of compelling self-interest. Another critical step is focusing on our strengths—taking the asset-focused approach we so often advocate in community partnerships. We have access not only to all sorts of useful resources and sample instruments, but also to institutional researchers and others with relevant responsibilities, skills, and interests. IR people, in particular, are expected to document and disseminate progress toward the institution’s mission, strategic priorities, and accreditation standards. They are increasingly being asked to explain the institution’s relationship with and impact on the community, as well as the meaning of a degree to alumni years after graduation. Civic engagement practitioners represent a source of valuable connections and knowledge for them, just as they offer quantitative research capacity and a fresh perspective on key questions and outcomes.

Assessment of civic engagement is ideally collaborative, involving multiple stakeholders within an institution, its partner organizations, and sometimes other campuses. It’s cross-cultural work too, as we build relationships, mutual trust and respect, and a sense of common purpose across differences. Along the way, we’ll practice and develop our reflection skills. Only with reflection will collecting data and stories lead to wisdom and greater insight into what works and why. Really looking closely at outcomes for communities and for students is an act of courage. It means being facing the risk of negative or neutral findings—and being willing to change and grow. Courageous leadership is something we seek to cultivate in our students, and we’ll teach it best when we model it too.

The Minnesota Campus Compact Assessment Leadership Team is a small group of civic engagement practitioners, institutional researchers, and faculty assessment coordinators committed to supporting enhanced assessment of civic engagement’s outcomes, grounded in this constructive vision and spirit. Our goal is to produce, in the coming months and years, brief pieces that highlight particular assessment tools and what was learned through their development and application. We’re also researching other resources and considering what opportunities we might offer for collaborative planning and assessment.

Reprinted from “Outcomes,”our assessment brief which is published twice a year and available at